Posts Tagged fennel

Creative with carrots

I’ve been on a fermentation kick for the last few months, focusing on small batch stuff, so I can ring the changes with spices and seasonings and never get fed up of what I’ve made.

It’s easy. I grate vegetables in the food processor (mostly carrots, but I’m open to other suggestions), squeeze them together with salt and spice, squish down in a jar and wait.  I liked carrots with cumin and fennel, but fermented carrot with dill seed was sort of blah.

After a few versions where the brine bubbled out  the jar, I have concluded that 400-450 grams of veggies just pack down into a 500g Mason jar.

Fermented carrots

450 grams carrots
7 grams of salt
1/2 tsp of spice

Grate the carrots finely and use your hands to mix them with the salt and spice, squishing the veggies together until brine starts to come out. Push down into a wide-mouthed jar, trying to get rid of any air spaces, and then push a clean, narrow jar down on top of it. I sometimes fill that jar with water to weight it down, or I get lazy and I use an unopened jar of jam or chutney.

Cover with a cloth to stop dust getting in, and leave on the countertop until it bubbles its way to your preferred degree of tanginess. I start tasting my carrots after 2-3 days, and they are usually done after 4-5 days. But some recipes say it takes a week or even two. It depends on how warm your kitchen is, and on the mood of the carrots.

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A few tips:

  • You want 1-2 percent salt to vegetables by weight, so it’s easier using a digital scale (set to metric) than using measuring cups and spoons. But there are recipes that use cup measurements if that’s your thing.
  • Don’t overdo the spices.
  • The amount of liquid you end up with is totally unpredictable. After about two days, the brine rises to the top of the jar, and sometimes bubbles over (store your jar on a plate or a bowl). But after 4-5 days that liquid seems to soak back into the carrots.
  • If you have leftovers that won’t squish into your jar, just eat it as a (slightly salty) salad.
  • You can add extra brine if the carrots dry up, but they are usually tangy enough for my taste by the time that happens, so I move them to the refrigerator to stop the fermentation process.
  • The books say the fermented veggies will keep for weeks or even months. My small batches never last that long — I add a forkful to my lunchtime sandwiches (they taste awesome with home-made hummus), or throw them into a salad for extra taste and crunch.
  • This is probably total coincidence, but I’ve lost a little weight since I started eating my fermented veggies on a regular basis. All those good fermenting bugs seem to do very nice things to my digestive system.

Next up: Friends over at http://www.wellpreserved.ca point me to this recipe, which I am going to do as soon as I’ve started eating the carrot batch that’s bubbling away right now. I mean how can you go wrong with carrots and ginger?

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Beautiful beans

Why, when I cook lentils and chickpeas all the time, with varying degrees of success, do I always shy away from beans? The presoaking time, perhaps? The fact that they often don’t actually have much taste?

Flageolet beans, the tiny pale green offerings from specialty stores, are the beans to change all that, and they have a lovely, almost nutty taste, and a far shorter soak-and-cook time  than the  larger kidney beans. I bought them on spec on a Saturday market outing, and scoured the internet for inspiration until I found this well-reviewed offering.

Soak the beans overnight. Braise bacon (I used pancetta), onions, carrots and fennel, then add the pre-soaked beans and water and cook at 300 or 350F for the best part of two hours, half covered and half uncovered, until the fennel melts to mush, the carrots soften and the beans are cooked.

I admit it needed a little something on the add-to-taste front, so a second time I threw in half a can of tomatoes and a tiny splash of maple syrup.

It made days of leftovers, and like all bean dishes, it got better by the day.

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I’ll make this one again.

But any other flageolet bean recipes out there?

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Made in heaven

I’ve been playing around a lot with fennel flowers this summer in a gallant attempt to persuade our two fennel plants to concentrate on bulbs not flowers. But I think it’s a losing battle. The fennel flowers are a gift that just keeps giving, which means more experiments, more couscous and risottos with fennel, and still more small batch jams.

I’m proud to say that the latest venture, a blue plum fennel jam, is amazingly delicious, and paired with a sharp cheese (cheddar, manchego, an espresso-washed hard cheese from Wisconsin), it’s a marriage made in heaven.

I made just 2-1/2 jars of this in a quick evening experiment on Thursday, and the half jar is already almost gone, which means I bought more plums today to try to recreate the magic. Here was the (approximate) recipe.

Plum fennel jam
1 quart blue plums, stoned and quartered (this made just under 4 cups of chopped fruit)
2-1/2 cups sugar
juice of one lemon
a dozen fennel flowers, chopped very, very fine
2 star anise stars

Mix all the ingredients together and let them sit around for a couple of hours so the sugar dissolves a little. Taste, to be sure that the star anise flavor isn’t going to overpower things, and fish the anise out if you think it’s strong. My star anise were from last year, so they have lost a little of their pungency. I took them out midway through the boil.

Heat the mixture, slowly until all the sugar dissolves, and then at a fast rolling boil until it sets. My plums were pretty unripe, which means oodles of pectin, so this one set fast. From boil to bottle took something like 5 minutes.

Bottle in sterilized jars. Waterbath 10 minutes.

Easy as pie. Actually a lot easier than pie, if I think about it. No pastry to make, roll out and worry about.

Rating 4-1/2 (out of 5)
I love the taste, texture and set, and I absolutely adore the way this goes with cheese. But the little bits of fennel are marginally disconcerting, like the little seeds in a blueberry jam.

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Blueberries with fennel

It’s a little alarming when you have an idea for a jam and Google offers no recipe suggestions at all. Does it mean nobody has ever thought of this one? Or does it mean that somebody did think of it, and it was so evil that they refuse to write about it?

But ever since my surprise success with a plum fennel jam I’ve wanted to use more of those pretty fennel flowers in jam. We had more blueberries after another stint at the pick-your-own farm, so I decided to try a small batch, just to see. Apart from anything else, it gave me a chance to see if my little cubes of home-made crabapple pectin would encourage things to set. It’s a sour pectin, so it might take some of the sweetness off the blueberry jam as well.

Blueberry fennel jam
4 cups blueberries
3 cups sugar
juice of 2 lemons
3 tbsp of crabapple pectin (I think the jam would have set just fine without it)
a handful of fennel flowers, chopped almost to powder

Mix all the ingredients except the fennel together and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Boil like crazy until it sets. Add the fennel. Bottle in sterilized jars.

It made three jars, and a little bit of leftovers to give me an early taste.

I’m keeping this one in the fridge because I actually forgot to add the fennel, so threw it into my rapidly-cooling jam just before I bottled it. I don’t know if this will encourage something nasty to grow, but I didn’t have time to waterbath, and I don’t want to take the risk.

Early rating: 3-1/2 (out of 5)
It’s a nice set and a deep purple color, but I can barely taste the aniseed of the fennel.

And after the glories of jams from apricots, raspberries and strawberries earlier in the year, I think blueberries, like cherries, are best eaten fresh.

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Yellow plums with fennel; coriander-cukes

Our backyard, as anyone who followed our home renovation blog will know, is far too small for us to live on the produce, but we are growing heirloom tomatoes on the third floor deck, as well as a riot of herbs and salad greens at ground level. We had many meals of  lettuce and mustard greens before they decided to go to seed, and the chard is ready for harvest.

But we also have two fennel plants that are trying hard to go to seed rather than to bulb, and Vietnamese coriander that has taken over a large chunk of precious real estate. If I cut back the coriander, can I use that instead of dill in my newest batch of modified bread and butter pickles? And what about fennel flavored jam, given that fennel is like aniseed, and aniseed works with fruit?

So yellow plum fennel jam and coriander cucumber pickles were the two experiments today.

I salted the cukes, a la New York Times recommendation, and then layered them in a jar with biting Vietnamese coriander and  mustard greens before pouring in a vinegar/sugar/peppercorn/coriander/allspice mix. (I’ve been cutting the sugar each time I make these pickles; I’m down to about half of the NY Times recipe by now.)

It will take a day or so to see how well that experiment worked.

Edit: Vietnamese coriander and cukes is perhaps not the most inspired combination. The cucumbers seem to have more burn and bite than actual taste, and I can’t even taste the (also biting) mustard greens I threw in at the last minute. But I have a lot of Vietnamese coriander. There must be some other recipes out there that work.

Rating: 3 (out of 5)
It’s getting better day by day

But let me say that the jam is good. It was bright yellow before I added the finely chopped fennel flowers/buds/baby seeds, and the last minute addition turned it into a delicate yellow-kiwi, with flecks and tiny strands of green, like the saffron strands in a really good risotto. It’s a subtle hint of aniseed in a tart, but very plum-like jam.

My inspiration was Culinaria Eugenius, who took blue zwetschgen plums  and added fennel seeds and slivovic in a jam venture that took 45 minutes to boil down. Mine was a smaller batch and a faster boil, with just 10 minutes rolling boil for a surprisingly firm set. A silly experiment that ended up well.

Yellow plum jam with fennel
3 cups yellow plums, pitted and quartered (I used a quart of fruit, so  just over 3 squished down cups)
2 cups sugar (well, maybe 2-1/4 cups)
juice of one lemon
about 2 tbsp of finely chopped fennel flowers (chopped from my two fennel plants in the hope they will  grow into nice fennel bulbs one day)

Mix fruit, sugar and lemon and let it sit around for an hour or so until the sugar starts to melt. Heat, slowly until the sugar is all dissolved, and then at a rapid boil until it sets. Add the chopped up fennel and cook for another 30 seconds or so. Bottle in sterilized jars. I didn’t bother to water bath. I got just 2-1/2 jars, and they will be just fine by themselves.

My final venture was an attempt to use up last final jalapeno after buying two for last week’s peach jalapeno jam and wimpily only using one of them. I carefully donned rubber gloves to chop the jalapeno, and used it in a rather-runny apricot jalapeno jam. I think the fruit was too ripe, and I made midweek and decided 10 minutes of boiling would be enough. I can’t give you the recipe as I can’t remember the proportions, and the bite seems a little tame. I’ve got to be less wimpy with jalapeno.

But it does look very pretty — a brilliant orange with little flecks of green. The plum fennel venture is on the left.

Aug 3 edit: The apricot jalapeno venture really is rather nice. The main taste is one of apricot, which always was one of my favorite jams, but there’s also a very, very gentle kick. Interestingly, I can’t taste the bitter almond flavor from the apricot kernels at all. Maybe that one takes more time to emerge.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)
It loses a point for being a little too runny to put on bread (which doesn’t matter when I slop it into plain Greek yogurt), but it wins on  taste and color and even for that gentle bite. Maybe I’ll live dangerously and try 1-1/2 jalapenos next time.

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